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Retired publishing executive ecstatic with the idea of spending most of his time on the coast of Maine

Monday, July 16, 2012


I've always loved the names for groups of animals, especially the birds. Here are some of my favorites, only a few of which I've seen:

a charm of finches - yes, every day
an exaltation of larks - no, never, too bad
a gaggle of geese - yes
a murmuration of starlings - yes, but only on screen. An amazing sight, nonetheless.
a murder of crows - yes, at least 10 times a day
an ostentation of peacocks - no
a parliament of owls - no, more's the pity
a siege of herons - no
a tidings of magpies - no
an unkindness of ravens - yes, in the trees surrounding the churchyard where Yeats is buried

How to describe, then, the group gathered down the shore the other night? It ought to be a noisome word, since I only had sound to go on, trees and bushes blocking the gathering from view. There were screeches and laughings, murmuring and shouting, voices speaking over and under and through each other. It lasted for hours - they started at cocktail hour, were still going strong at my bedtime. They were too far away to hear individual phonemes, other than the occasional vulgarity. Four or five individuals were involved, judging by variations of tone and volume. Intoxicants seemed to be in use. The voices were almost entirely female. A lower male one sometimes rumbled, but if males were there in force, they were inside watching Downton Abbey.

I sat for an hour or so, listening and smiling and imbibing my own intoxicants of gin and sea air. All other birds seem to have deserted the shore. Only the sounds of this party, yes, it was a human party, raucously unusual for this quiet shore, were heard. It was as if some women decided to have a man party, full of noise and opinion and beer and taunts.

In their honor, I dub this collective an exuberance of women.

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